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Call for proactive approach to help soldiers

Special Correspondent

Manmohan moots mechanism for grievance redress at various levels

— Photo: S. Subramanium

TOP BRASS: Defence Minister A.K. Antony with Chief of the Army Staff General J.J. Singh, Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal F.H. Major and Chief of the Naval Staff Sureesh Mehta during the 27th meeting of the Kendriya Sainik Board in New Delhi on Saturday.

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called for a more proactive mechanism to help families of soldiers posted in remote areas.

With a record number of soldiers committing suicide last year and personal and property-related issues identified as the major reasons, the Prime Minister pointed out that as the soldiers are posted for long periods far away from home, it is difficult for them to attend to the needs of their families.

At a meeting of the Kendriya Sainik Board, which looks after the welfare of retired soldiers, Dr. Singh said the local administration must make extra efforts to look after them as well as families of martyred soldiers.

"We need a mechanism by which at the district level, the Collector, and at the State-level a nominated senior officer can at every quarter review the status of grievance redressal.''

Antony's suggestion

Defence Minister A. K. Antony favoured attaching serving defence personnel to Sainik Boards and requested the armed forces to nominate personnel. "Such small steps would go a long way in raising the morale of our troops."

"Till the human aspect is suitably taken care of, all attempts at modernisation, providing better pay and allowances, training and discipline, will not be able to achieve the desired results.''

Since a major reason for the suicides is unresolved domestic problems and an apathetic administration, Mr. Antony has already written to Chief Ministers to instruct the civil authorities at State and district levels to be more proactive and prompt in responding to the grievances and problems of the defence personnel and their families.

The Minister reiterated his view by calling for "support and care'' by the Central Government and the local administration towards their families.

This aspect is "very crucial'' because "we want our troops to maintain a high morale and perform their duties without any worries.''

While lauding the boards for their efforts to help retired soldiers, the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister drew attention to the gap between intentions and implementation as well as structural infirmities in the support systems — the Kendriya Sainik Board has widespread reach but a quarter of the sanctioned posts are vacant at local levels and special polyclinics for soldiers are planned for every district but land acquisition is an issue.

Aid to ex-servicemen

With 2007 declared as the year of placement of ex-servicemen, the Defence Minister suggested raising a battalion of ex-servicemen by each State and appreciated the private sector's resolve to provide placement to former soldiers.

He said financial assistance to ex-servicemen, widows and their wards under the Raksha Mantri's Discretionary Fund had been doubled.

In addition, new areas of financial assistance such as house repair grant, funeral allowance, assistance to orphan daughters, children education grant for the girl child up to graduation level and emergency grant have also been introduced for the first time. This also includes a grant for marriage of widows.

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